Detroit Metro Airport, 2003
I have a friend who is a fully responsible adult, business owner and employer, conservative in most social and political matters, but who also cannot take a vacation that doesn’t include serious gambling. We’re not talking about rolling the dice with the rent money. But neither are we talking about hanging around the cheap slot machines. Such is my friend’s compulsion that he can’t imagine taking a vacation where, as he puts it, “I don’t stand at least a fighting chance of making back the cost of the trip.”
I used to think that was a sad condition. Then I realized that I’m just as obsessed about traveling with a camera. For me, it’s as if the travel is altogether wasted, as if I wasn’t even there, if I can’t take pictures.
I hate to thing what a trained mental health professional might say about this. It’s not like there aren’t perfectly beautiful books full of photos of these places or that my photographs will set a new standard. (My defense, by the way, is that the pictures I take will be my personal interpretation of the gestalt of a place.)
I suspect this compulsion of mine dates back to a transition in my life that occurred about twelve years ago. It’s when I went from a period when my eyes didn’t recognize photo opportunities to a time when I couldn’t not see photo opportunities all around me. (By the way, my gambling friend is also a former English teacher who would certainly wag his finger at me for using that double negative.) Once this transition occurred I felt that my restored gift of “vision” might just be my one great crack in life at genuine creative expression and, as such, was being wasted if I didn’t act upon the opportunities.
And so it has come to this: I have to have some kind of camera with me when I travel. You’d think traveling without a camera would just heighten other senses. But in my case it’s as if holding the camera in my hand is the physical notice to my brain that it’s time to turn on all the senses and become hyperaware of my surroundings.
(I am also, not surprisingly, a huge advocate of always having my camera actually in hand rather than hanging off my shoulder. Too many good pictures are lost in the few seconds it takes to move the camera from the shoulder to the hands.)
I’m a different person if I travel without a camera; miserable, in fact, that I’m seeing things I want to photograph and not being able to capture them.
Just so you won’t think I’m a complete nutcase, let me assure you that I don’t completely decompensate if I happen to be traveling without a decent camera. The quality of cell phone cameras has improved considerably for occasions when no other camera is available. So like a junkie, a smoker trying to kick cigarettes or a compulsive gambler, I have a fix. But like my high stakes gambling friend, I still can’t imagine taking a trip where there isn’t at least a fighting chance of bringing home a few good pictures.